Sunday, February 17, 2013

Talking To People/Being Like Dad

Back in the day, my dad had no qualms at all about embarrassing his wife and children beyond all human endurance: he was forevermore TALKING TO PEOPLE.

So we go to the lake for a picnic back in maybe August of 1979 , and we're all around a picnic table, by all appearances a nice Beachy-Amish family, and then after we eat the bologna sandwiches and we're visiting over the Kool-Aid, pretty soon, there goes Dad, wandering off like he wants a better view of the lake, but we know what he's up to.  Yes, there he goes, sidling over to that other table which is full of large, noisy people plus a few beer cans and cuss words, and pretty soon he is TALKING TO THEM.

"You folks live around here?"



People at the feed store, people who came to buy Mom's butchered chickens, people with hay for sale, Dad talked with all of them.  Where were they from?  Were they Swedes or Norwegians?  Did they farm?


He still does this.  Last year when Mom was in the nursing home in Paynesville for rehab I took him to visit her and then we stopped at A&W.  While I waited on our order, sure enough, there was Dad, sidling up to a big burly bearded guy at a table.  "Are you a farmer?"

The guy chomped on his PapaBurger and nodded, obviously amused.

"Dairy?  Hogs?" said Dad.

He swallowed.  "Hogs."


Here is the horrible truth: I am becoming just like Dad.

I just have this intense curiosity about people.  I mean sometimes it is so burning that I just HAVE to talk to them.  Where are they from?  What brought them here?  What do they do for a living?  What is UP with them?

So I ask.

The last time I was in Minnesota, my brother Marcus and SIL Anna took me to the Holiday Inn in St. Cloud where I was to catch the shuttle to the airport.  The shuttle was late, so I waited a while in the lobby.  While I was there, a woman and three teenagers also came into the lobby.  The woman was about my age and had obviously been crying.  A lot.

She hugged her two boys and cried and told them to be good and to do well in school.  She talked briefly with all the kids, and I heard the word "divorce."  Then they all sat there and looked miserable.

Oh dear.

I had to talk to her.  I just had to.  Not just out of burning curiosity, which was definitely present, but mostly because my heart went out to her and I wanted her to know someone in the universe cared about her.

My former self and my current husband were in the back of my mind saying, "THIS IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS."

Too bad.

I sidled over to the garbage can, Dad-style, and dropped in my coffee cup.  Then I turned to the woman.  "Excuse me," I said, "Are you going through a hard time?"

She sniffed.  Yes, she was.  Her husband was getting a divorce and the family was breaking up, with the daughter staying with her and the two boys going to Phoenix with Dad.


"May I pray for you?" I said.  She nodded.

I put my arm across her shoulders and prayed for comfort and healing, for a clear path to follow, for mercy and restoration.

She cried, which I used to think meant I was saying the wrong things, but from personal experience I now know it meant I was saying the right things.

Then we got on the shuttle, her two boys and I, and she and the daughter left in their car.

The older son was the one I quoted in my last column who told me the Cold War was fought in Minnesota.

At the airport, everyone seemed to think I was a Catholic nun.  The shuttle driver addressed me as "Sister," a woman in a wheelchair waved me over and talked a while, then said goodbye with a happy, "God bless you," and everyone treated me with great deference.

Later I realized that maybe Mrs. Weeping At Holiday Inn was so receptive to my praying for her because she too thought I was a nun.

Unfortunately, not every place is as Catholic as Minnesota, which means I can't get by with as much if people think I'm just a nosy, intrusive Mennonite lady.

I am sure I'll only get worse as the years go on with the dangerous combination of more curiosity and less fear, so  I'll probably embarrass my family out of their minds.

And then one happy day in the not so distant future my children will catch themselves burning with curiosity, sidling up to someone, and saying, "You live around here?"

Somehow that thought makes me smile.


  1. I can so relate to your curiosity about people! Sometimes when a tour comes through my work, it's all I can do, when someone is standing there watching me sew, to not ask them, "where are you from?", so sometimes I do! I guess I've become my parents too!

  2. Same here, especially so since I live in Pinecraft. Of course in the winter time, it is mostly with the Snow Birds. But in the summertime it is the street people, the homeless. It is a way of life.

  3. My Minnesota dad was just like that! Embarrassed us to bits when we were kids...but now, like you, I find myself doing the same thing--or wishing I had the nerve to talk to the other person. My husband and I made life-long friends talking to "strangers" in an airport once so it can be a wonderful thing to do!

  4. I was the recipient of a curious group in a tiny town in the panhandle. We were on a day drive to this particular town as they have a butcher shop we like. At this visit the Dairy Queen was still in operation. We were enjoying lunch when I went to the counter to refresh my drink and was approached by a woman who had been sitting with three other women. She asked, very casually, "Are you from Dallas?" As we began to converse she admitted her group speculating what we were doing in their corner of the world and she decided to come over and ask. I found it charming, not noisy, but I like to know too!

  5. Love it! I just wish more Mennonite people would be as friendly...I, too, love to visit with strangers - have learned a lot that way. A lot. Most of the time people are amusing, so I laugh easily...and they enjoy it.

    Good article, Dorcas.

  6. My dad also. I sit here with tears in my eyes, of warm memories, and how the courage of one person, you in this case Dorcas, gave comfort to a very broken woman, and left a place in her heart to seek a God who would bring this comfort. Thank you.

  7. My dad is exactly like that too. And as much as it embarrassed me, I saw him boldly sharing his testimony with people from all sorts of walks of life.

    I think we need more people like my dad, and like you, who are willing to step out of their comfort zone and reach out to hurting people.

  8. You mean my dad isn't the only guy like that!!!

  9. I have embarrassed my children in just this way so many times! "Do you have to talk to everyone?" Bit i totally agree -- the curiosity just won't quit.

    -- Nancy

  10. I love your blog the stories make me think of all the stories that my grandfather & grandmother used to tell me about when I visited on the farm when I was little. I have such fond memories of them and those stories that it makes me happy especially when I am sad!
    God Bless you!

  11. It's good to know there are more people out there like me. :)Jewel

  12. My daughter had a temporary job where a coworker asked why the people on the other side of the Department of Motor Vehicles counter were always telling her their life stories. She replied, "I guess it's because I'm like my mom and smile at them."
    What a compliment!
    Our individual families instilled in us the love of God for others and the courage to open up to them.

  13. I am THAT person, but I'd really like to think it's because God gave me the gift of compassion for His people in any kind of clothes. Everybody has a story; nobody is 'just an ordinary person', and we, as His children, can be His hands, His ears, His words of comfort to hurting people. My Mom used to tell me nobody was ever a stranger to me so maybe your Dad, yourself, myself and millions of others have learned to escape the mores of social dictums and step out and up to others who need to tell their story to SOMEONE!!! to Him, through us.